From The Martial Arts Encyclopedia
Edited By Rock Ape
McDojo is a pejorative term used by some Western martial artists to describe a martial arts school where image or profit is of a higher importance than technical standards. The term is an example of McWords applied to martial arts dojo.<ref>Cotroneo, Christian. (November 26, 2006) Toronto Star. Kicking it up at the McDojo. Section: News; Page A12.</ref> A McDojo of Korean martial arts is usually called a McDojang. While using the term McDojo primarily indicates judgment of a school’s financial or marketing practices, it also implies that the teaching standards of such school are much lower than that of other martial arts schools, or that the school presents non-martial arts training as martial arts. Sometimes, a McDojo's practices may border on fraud, which is sometimes called the practice of bullshido.
"McDojo" is also a reference to the proliferation of such schools in virtually every community in the United States and many other nations, in much the way McDonald's restaurants have proliferated. Many practitioners of martial arts with serious combative, cultural, educational or therapeutic value regard such proliferation of recreational, business-oriented, or absurdist martial arts schools as derogatory or defamatory to the proper presentation of the martial arts.
Examples of McDojo practices
Currently, there are no official standards for identifying a McDojo. However, there are guidelines. These are indicators common to, but not necessarily exclusive to, McDojos. Many schools that would not generally be classified as McDojos have adopted some of these practices to varying degrees.
An individual that runs a McDojo will often have inflated or self-awarded black belt rankings or will belong to a certifying organization that cannot be traced to a known legitimate school or organization of recognized good standing. Frequently these people will be much younger than other instructors that hold similar or higher rank, and will hold rankings in a large variety of styles or arts.
It is common for such fraudulent instructors to "cross-certify" each other. Additionally, they will frequently take titles that imply very high levels of skill and several decades of experience, such as Shihan, soke or grandmaster, without having been granted them by any accrediting body. Some even create their own "school" and declare themselves grandmaster of it.
Another frequent tactic is to claim to have been trained in some non-specific place by an unknown "master". Any claims of having journeyed to Asia to train with secretive monks/ninjas/fighting masters must be generally assumed to be false, particularly if they claim to have learned secret arts that are superior to all other forms. Some instructors will also advertise claims that they are former members of the special forces (e.g., U.S. Navy SEALs).
One common McDojo practice in martial arts schools is the use of long-term contracts (6 months or longer in length) to lock students into a monthly payment, frequently by direct debit/deposit from a bank account. These contracts are generally structured so that a student can only be released from the contract under extraordinary circumstances, such as moving residency a considerable distance, death, or severe illness. Students who are dissatisfied with their training or are unable to continue participating for reasons beyond these can find themselves forced to continue paying for unwanted lessons.
School owners and instructors usually justify this type of payment plan by asserting that such plans are a greater guarantee of revenue for the school than a “pay as you go” approach, and can enable them to offer students standardized fees for training. Some schools with contracts will also accommodate students' individual circumstances; in the case of a student with a minor injury that prevents training for two months, the school may "bank" the time for that student, allowing the student to "make up" the two months at the end of the contract. Although the student will still pay during the time they aren't training, that two months will be available for them when their contract expires.
Opponents of contracts typically rebut that if the school's quality of instruction was high enough, they wouldn't need to require a contract or monthly payments; that students would want to keep paying of their own accord. The prospect of someone being forced to pay for unused training, even if it's being "banked" by the school, is also objectionable for some.
Some schools use contracts and direct debit/credit card payments as an attempt to keep the school a place of learning instead of a place of business. Since the financial component is automatic, the exchange of cash or checks in the school is less frequent, and generally frowned upon.
It is a myth that schools that use contracts are McDojos.
Black belt clubs
Sometimes a special kind of contract, and sometimes a motivation tool, a McDojo will often put beginners in a "black belt club" of some sort. Contractual black belt clubs will generally require the student pay tuition for a certain amount of time (multiple years), after which he or she is guaranteed to receive a black belt. Non-contractual black belt clubs will often require a student to pay a higher tuition rate to be fast-tracked to receiving a black belt, without the guarantee or the long-term contract.
Belts and testing fees
It is a common practice to charge a fee per belt test or per actual advancement in rank within a particular school — this defrays the cost of testing, which can include the actual purchase of the belt, the time and overhead for instructors to attend the testing, costs for administrative processing of certificates within a national or international federation, and travel expenses for higher-ranked visiting instructors and examiners.
McDojos often charge much higher fees or fees that escalate with rank. This is frequently combined with creating additional levels of rank within a school, making a school known as a “Belt Factory.”<ref>Cook, Ron. (March 1, 2006) Cairns Sun (Australia). Eight year old exceeds all black belt expectations. Section: News1; Page 6. (Rod Cook, 5th dan master instructor, Family Black Belt Academy, Smithfield, Australia, writing, "I lose more students than I keep in my schools, because we're not just a "belt factory" or "McDojo" (as some are commonly called).")</ref> While Japanese martial arts traditionally have ten ranks (kyu) before black belt (dan)Template:Fact, depending on the type of martial art and the attitudes of the school owner, the number of ranks from a white belt to a black belt can be anywhere from 5 (BJJ – White, Blue, Purple, Brown, Black) or fewer to upwards of 16 ranks with intermediate ranks in between (White, Advanced White; Orange, Advanced Orange; etc). Some schools also use a system of "stripes" to create more ranks/levels, or have even invented new belt colors, such as a "camouflage belt."<ref>Belt Colour schemes</ref> This uses reinforcement to make people stay, much in the manner of casinos. Given the multiplicity of colored belts in this system, another term for this is “Revenue Rainbow.” Many schools and organizations charge for gradings, but generally without grade inflation. A higher fee for black belt gradings justified if it involves additional expenses, such as those noted above.
Schools may also charge fees that are proportionately greater in amount as a student advances in rank. Belt fees for White, Orange, and Green belts may only be $20, but testing for a brown belt or a black may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. These higher costs are sometimes not divulged until the student has invested a good deal of time and effort. Depending on how a school evaluates students for assigning rank, this can turn into a "bullshido" practice if the advancement comes from an ability to pay rather than an ability to perform at the appropriate standard. Some feel these fees are justified, however, as testing for a black belt may require multiple people to gather from around the region, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles.
Cardio and children's classes
Many schools use the popularity of martial arts to run “cardio kickboxing” classes that are devoted to giving adult participants an intense workout based on movements from martial arts training. Schools may also host martial arts classes for children that generally run as an after-school activity. These types of programs vary greatly in terms of their emphasis on learning martial arts, as opposed to giving kids a healthy, fun activity outside of the school system. Although most cardio kickboxing is advertised as exercise-only, McDojos often claim it can also teach martial proficiency.<ref>Fight Like a Girl - " A Woman’s Guide to Transforming Cardio Kickboxing into Effective Self-Defense" by Addy Hernandez</ref> Children's programs at McDojos sometimes include busing from school, and are more or less overtly run as day-care programs with only a superficial focus on martial arts activities.
Some schools have a requirement that all students must have training equipment from a particular manufacturer and/or must be purchased through the school itself. Additionally, schools may forbid students from using their own gear that may be of a different style or manufacturer. These schools may receive profits from selling equipment by marking it up from the wholesale price at which they originally purchased it.
This is a less-likely sign of a McDojo practice, as some sound reasons exist for these requirements/embargos. Insurance companies may limit schools to using certain brands in order to guarantee coverage in the event of injury. School owners/instructors may also have a specific preference based on experience with various brands and deciding that a particular brand is the one best suited for the school's needs. Also, except for individual wear-and-tear, there is a guaranteed uniformity of equipment among all students in a school. Finally, one way a school can remain in business is by selling equipment to students.
Opponents of this practice complain that embargos can require them to purchase completely new training gear when they may already have high-quality gear from prior study in other schools. Further, even when new gear is needed, the cost of the gear either through the school or suppliers can be excessive for those on a limited budget. To address this latter complaint of high cost, some schools will purchase the gear for the student and allow the student to make payments on it at their own pace so that they can train immediately.
Another common issue is "chi masters" and others that make claims of superhuman or unverifiable abilities such as "no touch knockdowns", resisting physical force in defiance to the laws of physics, or "world record" speed. These are not to be confused with martial artists that train in feats of strength and focus for such things as breaking competitions. Some McDojos will claim that they can teach magical or mystical techniques, such as invisibility or other so called "ninja powers."
The simple test of this is if a school claims to be able to perform superhuman feats but refuses to demonstrate them, this claim must be looked at with suspicion.
- Bullshido.net A site covering various frauds and scams in the Martial Arts community. For a specific example of McDojo, see a Bullshido article reporting on a belt factory.
- Are You in A Martial Arts Cult? by Wayne Muromoto
- Real or Fake? Is Your Martial Arts School Legitimate? by Wayne Muromoto
- The Whole Legitimacy Thing by Karl Friday
- What to Look for in a Martial Arts School by Gaku Homma (a subsection of a larger article)